carrots

Marion Owen photo

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like carrots, especially home-grown ones. And I never met a carrot that didn’t like Kodiak.

Carrots might be considered the world’s most versatile vegetable, but they  haven’t always enjoyed such a charmed reputation. Today we’re going to talk about carrots: How they became orange, how to store and how to eat carrots in ways you might not have considered.

In the beginning, carrots were cultivated for their medicinal qualities, which is not surprising, since they were quite bitter. Then in the seventh century, farmers in Afghanistan started breeding wild carrots into a more edible crop. At that time their thin, woody roots were anything but orange: red, black, yellow, white, purple, even green.

The fascination with carrots continued, and in the 1600s the Dutch (through hybridizing techniques) developed a stubby, orange carrot. Then a French horticulturalist took the Dutch carrot, crossed it with the common wildflower, Queen Anne’s lace, a carrot cousin. Over a four-year period, he was able to produce the thick, elongated, bright orange root we know today.

Somewhere along the line, carrots swam to England, where the ladies fell in love with them. They used the bright green, lacy carrot tops to decorate hairdos and hats. In the kitchen, carrot juice was added to churned butter to improve its color.

While we’re talking about strange carrot facts here, let’s talk about smell. You might have noticed how carrots have a distinctive odor, something resembling turpentine. White varieties — remember carrots used to be white — tend to be the most aromatic. What’s more, exposure to sunlight, high temperatures or physical damage can cause the roots to generate alcohol, which adds to the solvent-like aroma. Thus, you want to handle carrots gently and keep them out of direct sun after harvesting.

If your harvests provides a gaggle of carrots, you have options from freezing and pickling to roasting and refrigeration … 

How to store carrots

To store carrots in the fridge, trim the green stubble, leaving a quarter inch or so. This prevents the carrot from rotting. Carrot leaves left attached draw moisture from the root and dry it out quickly. Rinse, but do not scrub them clean until you’re ready to use. Allow the carrot outer skin to heal (dry) for a day or so.

For small amounts, place unwashed carrots in Ziploc bags, seal tightly to ensure no air is coming in, and store them in the coldest part of your fridge. Check them periodically to make sure they are not rotting (open the bags if needed) or drying out too quickly (add a damp paper towel).

According to the British Carrot Museum (carrot museum.co.uk), during the first five months of storage, carrots will actually increase their vitamin A content. The trick to preserving the freshness of carrot roots is to minimize moisture loss. Thick, cored carrots store the best.

For larger amounts (and this applies if you purchase a large bag of carrots at the store), store them in a root cellar, cool shed, or a fridge will do. Line the drawers at the bottom of your fridge with a thick layer of absorbent kitchen paper (as they say in the U.K.) or paper towels. This will keep the carrots fresher for a much longer time. Again, make sure the carrots are dry before putting them away and check on them once or twice a week. Carrots tend to give off a lot of moisture in the fridge and it’s important to keep them on the dry side.

Try this option for longer term storage: Roast them in the oven and freeze for future use in muffins, quick breads or garlic hummus. Here is my favorite recipe for roasted carrot hummus.

To roast carrots, preheat the oven to 425 F. Chop carrots into relatively uniform chunks and toss them in a little olive oil. Scatter them in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until the carrots are tender and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool to room temp.

To make the hummus, blend the following in a food processor:

2 cups roasted carrots

3 cloves of garlic

4 tablespoon olive oil

1 can garbanzo beans, drained

1/4 cup tahini

2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 cup water or bean juice

1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin, ground ginger, salt, cinnamon, ground coriander, paprika, ground cumin.

What a lovely way to celebrate the Equinox than with a bounty of carrots! 

To connect with local gardeners and growers, visit the Kodiak Growers Facebook page and local farmers’ markets. To contact Marion, send her an email, mygarden@alaska.net, or head over to Facebook, Instagram at marion_owen_photography.com or her blog at marionowen.wordpress.com. Or pick up the phone, 907-486-5079.

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